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AD Desert Challenge: Toyota "Team FJ" determined to beat own record.



This month’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge looks set to feature a cluster of private drivers looking to achieve a podium finish. One such team is UAE-based expatriate duo, Dave Mabbs and co-driver Xavier Caminada. The pair, known as "Team FJ", are eager to beat their fifth-place overall position in last year’s event and are busy gearing up to hit the terrain of Abu Dhabi’s Al Gharbia in a purpose-built Toyota FJ cruiser.

This is the second ADDC for Mabbs and Caminada. They are confident that they can beat their own record and are looking for a top four placing in the car category later this month. Mabbs sourced the unique the vehicle from the United States on the Internet three years ago. It was originally built by US-based Donahoe Racing, now ICON Vehicle Dynamics, with the assistance of Toyota USA in 2007. It was given its inaugural Middle East run in 2008’s Desert Challenge.

However, an accident over a heavy landing in the dunes pulled it out of the race and hospitalised his then co-driver, Tim Ansell with a lower back injury. Ansell is now fully recovered but has not yet returned to competition. Briton Mabbs, 37, said: "We have invested close to US$ 100,000 in our vehicle. It has done well for us giving a ‘First in Class T1.1’ in our first international event, the Baja 250 in North America.

The unique design of the Toyota FJ has undergone thorough scrutineering by the FIA’s technical committee in Paris. Mabbs was forced to implement several other changes before the car could be admitted into the FIA T1 category and be eligible for events like the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

The engine, which has been a weak spot in the past, is a near-standard 4.0-litre V6 unit. However, the vehicle’s rear end has been fitted with an unusual four-link suspension, equipped with shock absorbers fitted with coil-over springs and ‘Jounce Shocks’. The front suspension has also been custom-built for desert rallying.

"In the desert, suspension is king," admits Mabbs. "No matter how powerful the engine and how fast the driver, weak suspension will break within hours and we’d have no chance of competing with the works teams on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge without attention to detail in this area."

The FJ Cruiser also did the duo proud in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, when he and Frenchman Caminada - over 23 years of rally experience, 12 in the GCC - finished fifth overall. They have also had a good run in the Saudi Arabian Hail Baja. "This is a professionally built vehicle with race proven abilities and an aggressive stance. We drive it without a windscreen, a one of its kind feat in the cross-country racing circuit", said Mabbs.

Mabbs said he prefers the problem of dust in the cockpit over the excessive temperatures that other drivers face on events like the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. "We are constantly challenging ourselves to push harder and the new terrain that will make up part of this year’s event is very exciting for us," said Mabbs.

The six-day competitive section of the cross-country motor sport spectacular, organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), will run from March 27-April 1, 2010. Once again the event will be the season-opening round of both the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship. It has the full backing of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.

2010/03/18 | 18:43 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/MABBS











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